Life & Times in … Defiance, Ohio?
“Just a City Kid from Buffalo”
I packed more life and living into the ’70s than most have packed into their entire lives. Would you like a taste?
The 1970s started off with my dropping in (1969) and then dropping out of (1970), a small Christian college in NW Ohio. Defiance College (on the Maumee River and not far from Napoleon) soon would live up to the name.
Once an Honor Student in high school (until I became so bored I lost interest), I found myself flunking out of my Freshman year at Defiance College. I was definitely not ready for this.
Getting arrested my 2nd week there … not a good start either. This arrest was an Arlo Guthrie “Alices Restaurant” type of inconvenience. Though I was not littering and I didn’t have to scream at a psychiatrist while jumping up and down, “I wanna kill”!
I met this girl (throughout my life most of my problems began with this statement) who needed someone who could get into a (her) house without a key. I was good at things like that, losing keys, AND getting into houses. It just turned out it wasn’t her house.
The light turned on for me when the local police (looked like the entire department, in fact, it probably was) showed up, and asked “who’s house is it?” Crickets. “Who broke in?” One would have thought I was famous with all the fingers pointing at me. Now I was.
Andrew Warhol once said, “In the future, everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame.” Well… this had crossed my mind at the time. But, jail was also crossing my mind and besides, they had never heard of Andrew Warhol in Defiance.
A city kid coming from Buffalo, NY. and here I was in Defiance, Ohio, a little town seriously stuck in the 1950s. I honestly believed I had time traveled from a world that just witnessed Woodstock, and yet I was headed into the 1970’s, Viet Nam War protests, Black Panthers, American Indian Movement, Farm-Labor Movement, Chicago, Watts, Nixon, J. Lawrence Ferlinghetti … talk about an immediate lifestyle change.
Defiance was about to be dragged, kicking and screaming into the ’70s, into the “revolution” and into reality. Nobody knew this better than the renowned poet Gil-Scott Heron and his anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1971). This still rings true, possibly more-so now than when he wrote it.
“All Roads Lead to Bob’s Big Boy”
One main road, Clinton Street, led into town from Highway 6/24, south from Toledo, past towns like Liberty Center and Napolean, past the Cambell Soup Company, past Jewell, and on to Clinton St. into Defiance. This is where the main hotel in town, The Holiday Inn, and Bob’s Big Boy were. Bob’s is still there, an icon to the past.
Every Sat. night all the locals drove their cars back and forth from downtown to the Bob’s Big Boy, about 2 miles. As I write this I wonder… “do they still do that?”
As it turned out back then, the locals (“townies” as they were known on campus) did this in every small town in Ohio and Indiana I think. Sometimes, we set up lawn chairs, opened a keg, and watched.
One night in Napolean, friends of mine visiting from back east stopped their car in a similar parade, got out, and went to a few cars to ask “why are you driving in circles around the town square?” I had assumed it was because they didn’t have a Bob’s Big Boy in Napolean. We were fortunate to get away without getting our asses beat.
Sometimes we went to Bob’s Big Boy in Defiance. When I walked in the door the very first time, I inwardly gagged. Entering through the double glass doors I immediately found myself staring at a glass case filled with pies and on top, a cash register dating from the 1950s, or possibly even the turn of the century. High school girls worked behind it in their Bob’s uniforms. Their boyfriends sat at the counter on stools, smoking cigarettes, and staring at us.
Inside the glass case with the pies, was food, specifically a Bob’s Big Boy burger and fries. Always. That burger was there in the Fall of 1969 and still there in the Summer of 1974. To this day I swear that in my four-plus years in Defiance, they never changed that burger in the glass case. Somebody in management knew how to preserve things, like animals, and evidently food.
“Hitchhiking — The Cure for Insecurity”
Bored, as mentioned previously, with HS by the 11th grade, I almost didn’t graduate. I had recognized we were being taught the same thing as Jr. HS, when I was an Honor student, only with bigger words. I was bored to death.
My desire to learn stuff had made me subject to abuse in high school… and by my senior year insecurity combined with my being flat out bored, caused my grades to spiral downward.
There I was at The Defiance College. My grades were not stellar. Nope, not at all. I didn’t want to be there and had no idea what to do. My parents had demanded I attend college, and away from home. I actually wanted to go to trade school. “That’s for dummies” I was told.
Personally, I thought I was the dummy for ending up in the cornfields of Ohio. So, I bailed after my Freshman year determined to figure life out.
Though this small Christian college was still stuck in the ’50s, in all honesty, Defiance kinda grew on me that first year. I’m strongly partial to small towns and crazy people. Defiance turned out to be a good fit. I was just there too soon.
That first year from Fall 1969 to Spring 1970 was absolutely… very weird. I mean, I partied, had a blast, met some very cool people (and girls), joined a fraternity, joined SDS, became active in The United Farm Workers Movement… and I did a lot of thinking. Then I left. But I returned 38 states later.